HIM as a band already exist for 10 years only, but these years have been “full”, steadily productive and increasing their fame, what makes their way so far a true achievement in a period that occasional “one-hit wonders” have the leading role.
The story of the most famous Scandinavian company after Abba starts somewhere in the beginning of 1995, when inspiration and musical talent incarnated in a studio without anyone knowing if those “experimentations” would end up to a record label or not. All that mattered to their frontman Ville Valo was their ep’s “666 ways to love” fate. HIM made it to differ by writing “commercial” lyrics yet profound in meaning, “talking” straight to the heart. What made the media adore them was Valo’s pretty face without doubt, and the black eyeliner on his eyes which appointed him automatically as the most beloved male in makeup after Robert Smith, The Cure’s leader. A year later and after hard work imposed by their producer an album succeeded their ep. Its title was “Greatest Lovesongs vol. 666” and without a lot of effort it got golden. It took 4 years to release their next album. The second album for a band having great success right away may easily be their total catastrophe or the key to worldwide establishment. HIM obviously sought the second one and that’s the reason why they didn’t rush, although their drawers were full of material. “Razorblade Romance” came in 2000 followed by a very successful European tour. Their third step was a year later with the title “Deep Shadows & Brilliant Highlights” and in 2003 the success went on with “Love Metal”. HIM were established in everyone’s minds and mainly in those who name them successors of what bands like Mission have left behind them. By playing the media game they never left their audience without photos and interviews full of journalists’ persistent questions for their albums’ contradictory titles, their magical ability to combine rock with gothic and metal rock so well, with ballads able to stand next to classic masterpieces like Metallica’s and AC/DC’s. Right after they entered the studio to record “Buried alive by love vol. 1”. It was the time that the need for huge changes was born. Europe’s frontiers were suffocatingly small for HIM and the lust for the big opening to the US market was intoxicating. In the beginning of 2005, their record label granted the right to re-release their first albums in the U.S. to Universal but without any further support, the outcome was rather disappointing. The insignificant promotion resulted in low record sales. It was then that Ville refused to renew their European contract with BMG and signed overnight a new one with Warner, after having conquered everyone in the label with the new material he presented them and having declared his willingness to move abroad for as long as it was needed to make a new album appropriately. So it happened.
HIM disappeared in the U.S., in a studio that once was a monastery and recorded “Dark Light”. With the lust and the passion of a breakthrough band they had been working unstoppably for months while they discuss for promo trips from Canada to Japan and from Brazil to Australia. “Dark Light” came at the end of summer, ready to make everyone talk about HIM’s return. Record sales all over Europe rise more and more every day, the U.S. market more mature than ever, welcomed them as if they had been long-awaited; the American press’s front covers deify them. First and foremost the one which characterised Valo Ozzy Osbourne’s ideal successor! HIM’s worldwide tour starts soon to finally lead them to Greece, being a necessary stop in their tour after last year’s experience as Ville told. We’ll be right here waiting for them!
It’s for sure one of the few cases that an artist’s name is equally or even more familiar than the name of the band he leads. Ville Valo and HIM, or HIM and Ville Valo, no matter which way you prefer them to be, is a strong, dark, inspired and definitely dear and favourite combination for numerous fans and for various reasons. I was wondering about Ville’s behaviour and eagerness to talk since he’s someone who has not only magnetism in his voice but also the power of attraction his good looks provide him with. His emerald green eyes combined with his pale white complexion and his black hair fascinated rebel teenagers, rock fans who know what they want, restless souls and those who wear eyeliner devoting themselves to gothic rock. I was wrong at any suspicion and prediction. Ville Valo and rockstar’s vanity have never met. Calm and down-to-earth, precise at all his answers and having opinions that don’t insult anyone or anything. Laconic at first and more relaxed as the time was passing by, HIM’s frontman proved without having second thoughts that he’s a young man full of dreams, who wants and knows how to work hard, cherishes his fans and declares his readiness to conquer the world, by spreading the band’s reputation to the four points of the compass.
Afisorama: Hello. From what I know you’re in Hamburg. Is there any particular reason or you’re there to rest?
VV: We came to Hamburg today, for 10 promotional presentations of our new album but I can tell you it is more rest than work to me, because I’m in a city full of friends, therefore every gig will be followed by a mini party. On the other hand, I also enjoy the weather, rain and sun played an interesting game today and I hope this to continue.
A: Are there any other interesting stops your mini promotional tour or you’re going home after Germany?
VV: We’ll also stop in France, Italy and I think Spain and then we head back to our place, Scandinavia.
A: Why not Greece as well?
VV: You got me unprepared. I really can’t tell you because I had no idea how our European schedule was gonna be like and where we would end up.
A: Since we mentioned Greece, you’re one of the most favourite bands of the Greek audience. Really, do you remember anything particular from your last year’s performance in Rockwave Festival?
VV: I remember everything of course! I remember I came to an astonishingly beautiful country where I’ll definitely return someday for vacations, I remember the people the day we were on stage being more than warm and I think you understand that this is exactly what motivates a band. I also remember how well it was backstage with Brian Molko, Placebo’s singer. It was the atmosphere back there that created the energy we had onstage and what people received in the end. I have to confess I’ll hardly forget our visit in Greece.
A: I’ll stick a bit more to the past to tell you that by reading about you to take this interview it was the first time I noticed your band’s name consists of three initials (H.I.M.) is not a word and I have to admit their explanation took me by surprise: His Infernal Majesty.
VV: That’s right. I don’t really know what made us choose this phrase. There’s no logic about “how” and “why” we chose it. At the time we had to take a decision concerning our band’s final name I was reading books one after another, I went to the movies –as many as I could stand-, I watched television –for the first and the last time in my life so much- and I studied, I really studied any advertisements or spots. I was convinced something would provide me the answer I had been searching for. This phrase actually “worked” in me and I believe it was a decision being made long ago without me having realising it. Don’t ask me if I read it or I heard it in a movie. It’s impossible for me to remember.
A: So let’s leave the past to talk about the very interesting present, with the title “Dark Light”.
VV: I’m glad you find it interesting because the creation of this album was a complex of various changes in our way as a band.
A: This is what I noticed myself too and I’ll start by asking why you changed your record label.
VV: It was something we had to do. We were in a major record label of course (BMG) and I have to tell we didn’t have any vital problem with them, yet they couldn’t help our career’s future any further so we had to search for another record label to host us. To be more precise, what we really needed was the opening to the American, Japanese and Asian in general as well as Australian markets. Warner proved ready to undertake it and their propositions for all the above-mentioned were crucial for us. We’ve been a band since 1995 and when you already count 10 years in a studio or on stage, you become more demanding from yourself first of all and then from all the others, and that automatically means you have to risk.
A: So, you weren’t stressed at all by your opening to totally unknown markets?
VV: No. It was something I’ve been longing for for so long and I think this idea gradually developed for all of us.
A: It seems you like taking risks since you try so many things together. Not only did you change your label but also you recorded your album in the U.S. which means you cooperated in the studio with people who don’t have the European attitude. I’d like you to tell me all about this experience of yours.
VV: I’ve been dreaming for years to record an album in the U.S. and I don’t want to be misunderstood. I believe we have the best specifications in Europe as far as technical equipment and human resources are concerned but I needed something different. A new environment, different place to be, another professional attitude, something to take me to the limits. I think I did it, I took a different path and I walked it through to the end just like I wanted it to be.
A: Tell us more about it …
VV: So I wanted to create the same conditions with 1999’s when we isolated in the Wales, in a castle, to record “Razorblade Romance”. So I picked Paramour in Silver Lake, California which had been a monastery and fulfilled all the specifications for the recording’s necessary atmosphere. We stayed there for as many weeks as it was demanded, away from home, family, friends and former associates, because in our case I think there were the essential conditions to take a step forward. Only familiar points of view and ideas among us, the band’s members, and all the rest were tested to see how safe and sound they could be by the end of their cooperation with us.
A: I think you’re exaggerating. Is it so … hard an experience for someone to work with you?
VV: No. The difficult part was for them to understand our European culture and for us to let them without resisting launch this culture in the U.S. market, yet to keep our identity. I don’t want to be unfair but I think Tim Palmer, was the real “magician” during our recording’s “festival”, a man who has cooperated with Robert Plant and U2.
A: Characterize “Dark Light” in only one word.
A: I have to admit that was the last word I expected to hear from you.
VV: It’s a word that speaks for itself, believe me. “Dark Light” is an album with loud but also melodic tracks. Full of tension since they were composed in a very short period of time during which, thankfully, we were in an optimistic mood. On the other hand, it’s an album in which David Lynch, Tim Burton and AC/DC are combined harmonically inspiring us. To sum up, I believe it’s the CD that’ll teach you sing along all its lyrics, to bang your head and to play the guitar perfectly.
A: From the way you speak, I assume you’re a cooperative man, you don’t have a star’s selfishness who believes he’s the leader of his band.
VV: All these are totally unknown to me. Since I can’t be the man-orchestra by doing everything alone, it’d be at least ridiculous and of course a sure failure for me to believe I’m beyond my partners. Being in a band means to work all together, where everyone –in my opinion- undertakes a task and he has to do his best.
A: Your part isn’t only performing. You’re the one who writes the lyrics and the music. What’s the most important of all for you?
VV: I won’t choose. You know, sometimes I have the impression I consist of 3 different people; the one sings, the other composes music and the third one writes the lyrics. Some other times I feel these connect in a chain in my mind and in case it breaks I won’t be alive not only as an artist but also as a person. Of course I don’t think I’m more important than the rest of the guys in the band; without their abilities my ideas would never come to life, would never turn into songs. However, I may feel somewhere deep in me I’m the HIM source who makes things happen.
A: How did you feel about the fact you made things happen so soon and, with this album, you already won a place in the truly authentic and acceptable rock stars’ pantheon, next to Ozzy Osbourne and Slash? I think you conquered the American front covers too easily.
VV: I feel honoured. I don’t want to sound arrogant but it’s ok, I’m a bit used to being shot for various magazine’s covers so I don’t want to talk about it, but on the other hand, I don’t underestimate nor ignore our band’s fans, I always want to keep them satisfied and that’s the reason why I never stop exposing myself in the media world. I have to confess I was touched, it was a real honour for me to be among rock stars I considered to be real idols, who have influenced me, have made me dream, have led me to the path I walk right now.
A: Since you talked about influences, tell us about the ones that affected your band?
VV: Undeniably it was Black Sabbath and a bit later AC/DC.
A: You know, I sense that the last 1-2 years rock music started playing a leading role in the music scene again and it will be for good.
VV: To my great surprise and satisfaction, I think so too. I totally support we should listen to everything, however I always believed rock music is the motive power for all the rest music genres.
A: I’m dying to find what kind of music you listen when you’re home alone?
VV: Reggae. I’m not kidding. I listen to a very specific reggae kind that makes me “fly”, it soothes me from what I’m doing, so I guess you can understand this contradiction has a balancing role in me.
A: Speaking about contradictions, I’d like you to tell me about your collaboration with Apocalyptica, whose sound isn’t that different from yours, yet you have some obvious differences.
VV: An amazing experience I’ll remember for many years in my life. Cello’s sound had a tender and powerful impact to me that made me complete as an artist. In addition, the chemistry with the guys was one of the best I’ve ever had.
A: Looking back in time, what’s left to you after 10 years of HIM?
VV: I think what’s left to anyone who respects his job, his colleagues, his life in general. Maturity, responsibility and a more down-to-earth perception of what’s happening around us. I don’t want –in any case– to believe we live in our own world. We just get better and more demanding from ourselves of course.
A: What people get from you in the end is all you want to give them, because it’s no lie nor a compliment that you belong to the category of the widely-accepted pure rock bands.
VV: Thank you for seeing it that way but I think we just do our job the way we have to do it, a job we love so much and if you’re original and honest to your audience, I don’t think they would have any reason to “excommunicate” you.
A: We’d rather you to please us all in Greece by performing live here soon.
VV: We’ll do that too. Our world tour starts in a few months and Greece’s already in our plans. For the time being we need your understanding because after our mini promotional tour in a couple of European countries, I have a desperate need for the so-called rest at home, away from anything related to work.
A: Since you mention it, it’s a bit weird your base’s still in Finland and not in –let’s say– a country like the U.K.
VV: Our base is unchangeable. I’m devoted to the quotation that says even if you’ve conquered the world you must always return at home to “suck” all its positive energy before you go to your next adventures rejuvenated.
A: All this sounds so poetic. I didn’t believe the Scandinavians could be such dreamers as us, from the Mediterranean.
VV: I don’t classify people, I distinguish them by their need to live their lives with as great interest as possible.